Grief: Living. Wreaths. Painting with Mimi. Consequences.

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Amid the cacophony of my first-world suburban existence: prop planes buzzing above, sirens on their way, lawn mowers manicuring, birds singing sweetly and my hot tub shocking, I lit a couple sticks of incense and decided to do something I’ve been putting off for months: refreshing the springtime egg wreath on our front door.

I bought it about six years ago from Red Envelope. I don’t think they sell it anymore. It spoke to me because its muted springtime tones of subtle rosy pinks, soft powder greens, robin’s egg blue and dusty tans were more reminiscent of actual spring and actual eggs than the hot pink, electric blue and royal purples we see in easter baskets.

The wreath had been hanging every year: from the first day of spring to the first day of fall, for six years. In the fall it is replaced by an autumnal wreath, covered with (I hope artificially) speckled feathers in tones of rust, espresso and black. On Hallowe’en, for one day, the previous speckled wreath is replaced by a black feather wreath which is summarily re-replaced by the previous one. After Thanksgiving, I replace that wreath with a Christmas-time wreath until after the Epiphany wherein I replace that wreath with a faux cranberry on grapevine wreath: very wintry.

When I got married, I had grapevine and faux lily, rose, peony and hydrangea wreaths hang from every other pew at the church and window at the reception.

The hanging or display of wreaths is an apparently ancient custom. My wiki search included citations of wreaths from ancient Greece for seasonal or mythological celebrations such as the end of a harvest, or a birth of a god, death. To me, they mean “welcome” and “we know what time of year it is.”

I guess I have a wreath “thing.” We didn’t hang wreaths when I was a kid. I guess that’s why I want them in my adulthood. My wreath “thing” reminds me of my band-aid “thing”: I have band-aids in the kitchen, every bathroom of the house, some in my purse, cars and linen closet. We didn’t have band-aids when I was a kid; for some reason my parents never bought them. We needed them, but in my mind, I project that to my father and mother that they were frivolous. Band-aids and juices, things to drink. My aunts had band-aids and lemonade. I felt safe when I had a cut or scrape at their homes; I knew I would be attended to.

I digress. I write in the moment; I try to make it make sense at the end.

I have been avoiding the work on the wreath because I wanted to restore the “glaze” effect of the eggs, but without the glaze look. For some reason, I was stymied.  But today, I decided: it’s gorgeous outside, I have been yearning to do this and so screw it, let’s go.

The wreath looked like this when I first started:

this is really a picture of Thing 3's solicitors deterrent sign, which just happened to include a fair amount of the wreath.

this is really a picture of Thing 3’s solicitors deterrent sign, which just happened to include a fair amount of the wreath, which is quite faded. The sign has been very effective.

I decided to test my super-thin acrylic paint application on a test egg, one that had fallen off the wreath. The color was still too strong. I rubbed it off with my finger and thought, “better, but I’m not going to paint and rub-out each egg, plus, they’re only two eggs that have fallen off… so I’m definitely not going to either take them off and put them back on or … ” you don’t care what I was thinking. I don’t either.

Moving on…

So then I thinned the paint some more. Better, but still…

the first two pinked eggs. meh.

the first two pinked eggs. meh, directly above.

 

Then I took a broader brush, dipped it in the water and wet an egg that was still on the wreath…. “you’re taking a big chance here… if it drips, then that’ll affect the other egg…”

The fear in my head was really just … “STOP IT.” I said to myself. “Just do it. Screw it. It’s only paint and you can dilute it….”

I put my color brush in the thinned pink paint and dabbed it onto the wet / primed egg.

It washed. It was glorious.

I heard her, Mom…. from when I was wee and we were painting on watercolor paper, a huge treat for me:

“When you wet the paper first, like thiiiissss … ” she would take a broad brush and wet just the top of her sheet. I didn’t understand, there was no color… I was impatient, but I watched.

“And then you take a pinpoint of paint, juuuust like thiiiiissss… and you dab or stroke that colored brush tip onto the wet paper … it does …. THIS….” and the color bled onto the sheet of thick, dimpled parchment. I watched with wonder and squealed at her magic.

It was those unfiltered and infrequent moments with Mom, those now- deeply poignant moments, riddled with ephemera, when she showed me who she was: a magician, a painter and an artist, who cared deeply about her creations.

It was also in those moments, that I felt envious of her interest in that paper.

In that brush.

In that paint.

In that creation.

She was in her zone then.

There was no getting her back.

“My turn! My turn!” and I would try to do it the way she showed me. Soft and gentle strokes of just water onto my sheet.

I was a spectator. She let me in for a few moments, but they were fleeting.

“That’s too much!” she would blurt, unconscious of her tone, yet (to me) very concerned about wasting the paper, of making a mistake.

She wanted it to be really good as much as I wanted it to be really good. I wanted her to be pleased and proud of me. I chose red. She wanted me to choose burgundy, but I wanted the red. She wanted to show me how to paint a sunset. I just wanted red.

So we went on… I put my reddish pink tones on my paper and watched it bleed into the water.

The color stopped where the water did. I thought that was neato.

She showed me how to make a sun burn in all that red and periwinkle.

“Make a circle with your brush, big enough for a sun. Ok! Yeah, you can add some little streaks outward and then get another color, say orange or yellow… just a little… watch what it does…”

I did as she instructed. I dabbed into the burnt orange.

“Bittersweet. That’s my favorite color,” she would say.

I’m back.

So I heard her today, when I was washing each egg first and then gently dabbed my color onto its soft, slightly porous and smooth, mounded oval surface.

The color stopped where the wash stopped. Just like on the paper.

I just noticed that today is 9 months from when Mom died. “June the TWO!” she used to shout sometimes on June 2nd; I don’t know why. “October the ONE!” on … October 1st.

Eggs. Nine months. Pregnancy. Motherhood. Death. Wreaths.

more color, more life.

more color, more life.

So then I got confident and was off to the races. I painted about seven twelve a dozen eggs that pinkish “bright magenta” tone. I wasn’t in love with it, but it was getting better, my technique was improving and the eggs were being restored. Mom would’ve been pretty psyched.

Green. I did the same with the “lime tree” green. Dilute it to smithereens and then wash and dab. Those came out a butter yellow hue, which was ideal.

I decided to leave the blue eggs as they were. Their colors didn’t fade too much because they likely didn’t have any red tones in them.

The door faces north to the brutal Virginia sun, or else that wreath would be an omelet by now.

Then I took a step back.

The pinks were too pink. The green was OK, closer to what I wanted. I wanted to tone down the pinks.

So I mixed green with pink. A preppy fantasy. Green and pink make grink. When I put grink on all the pink eggs, it toned them down.

I was pleased.

“Wash the color… wash the color. You can always make it stronger, but making things softer… that’s a challenge,” Mom would say.

Oh how right she was, about all of that — it applied to so much more than paints and colors. It’s always easier to strong something up, to push through, to bully or force your way out, through, around or under something… but to yield…

To yield… that’s something else entirely. To step back and yield and let things roll out and just … become … without influence!

How difficult that is! We have to influence. Sometimes we have no choice. We have to step in. Change the direction of things; redirect. Can’t sit with the waiting. Can’t sit with our pain. Can’t sit with our consequences.

Consequences. Thing 2 didn’t turn in a field trip permission form nor the funds to cover the trip. It was all due last week. He was even given an extension by one day. Still didn’t do it; didn’t remind me, didn’t ask me for the funds, didn’t do any of it.

This morning he called me in a lather… “Mom. I need the funds. I need the permission form. I need it all today.” I heard noises in the background, lots of kids, adults talking over them. I thought the trip was today.

“I’ll send an email authorizing your attendance for the trip…. I don’t know about the funds… how much?” I said.

“Just send the email. We can talk about the check when I get home. Thanks… Bye, Mom.”

>click.<

I sent the email. An hour later, the teacher replies: “The trip is Thursday but the funds were due last week. I gave him an extension… finance office needed the funds by Friday. I’m sorry.

He can attend class with Mr. Gitchygoomie. He will be staying behind at school… he can attend his specials and PE. … ”

It’s been a tough “academic” year for all of us. Mom died the day before school started fer cripessakes. Thing 2 has some fantastical notion of wait-and-see after weeks of do-nothing-and-fake-it.

Thing 2 is barely surviving middle school. Middle school is … ugh, hard enough on its own, but then that little asshole on the bus couldn’t help himself. I said “asshole.” I think by the time you’re 15, if you’re still picking on unrelated people who are smaller than you, you’re an asshole. You’ve set your course. Then the parents of the asshole coming after my kids…? Lots of head shaking going on over here.

I have determined that I’m going to stop thinking about that bullying problem. In fact, I’ve determined it lots of times. Then a thought or a memory or a juxtaposition or a freakin’ voice wafts over my backyard’s fenceline crux and I’m sucked back into that ridiculous evening and subsequent days of their utter desperation. I got sucked in back now because of T2’s having to sit with the consequences of his inaction (which is also an action, by the way) and his less-than-stellar middle school accomplishments. I get it: middle school stinks.

So yeah — nine months. It feels about right. The weather here is as it should be now. The sun is shining in a bright blue cloudless sky and a breeze is rustling the oak leaves above me and blowing my stray hairs into my face. It’s cooler than expected, here at almost 11 am and it’s 67˚ outside. I’ll take it. The wind in the leaves sound like “ssssssssssSSSSSSsssssssssSsssssssssssSSssssSSSSSSSsss” but not threatening, like how a snake would hiss. It reminds me of wind blowing high grasses or wheat stalks. Very peaceful.

Murphy is laying by my feet and Charlie just hopped across the yard to say hello to the doggie who lives directly behind us.

I miss the idea of Mom. I miss the projections I wished upon her more than the reality of our relationship. I find myself romanticizing at times how things were; I find myself doing what she did a lot of the time: lying to myself about how things really were. It’s hard to admit that your relationship with the Most Important Person in your life was rife with conflict, pain, fear, complexes and mistrust. I need to remember the reality though: that things were challenged and challengING because it’s where I get my strength now.

No one is perfect. I am not a perfect mother. I am reactive and abrupt and cold at times. I am also tender and compassionate. I am defiantly sober and consciously honest and a fierce advocate for my children and their rights — even against one another. That’s my legacy, or part of it.

The other part of my legacy, as Mom intoned, is in “making things softer.”

I may not be perfect, but I have band-aids, and I have wreaths. And lemonade. I have lemonade too.

The finished product:

browns, greens, butter yellows and softer pinks. good to go for another six years, i'd say.

browns, greens, butter yellows and softer pinks. good to go for another six years, i’d say.

Thank you.

12 responses »

  1. Stupendous job Molly; not sure if I could have pulled that restoration off! You probably have even put Martha to shame with this.. 😉 I am confident your momma is looking down on you and beaming with pride and wearing a smile. I am also sure she is thinking you were here greatest masterpiece because she had gotten the tones and the colors, just right!

    Enjoy the rest of this beautiful day!!

  2. These moments, they come in the strangest times and places and then suddenly you take half a step back and something about it all begins to make sense.

    Grief is unique in its ability to ground us in the present at times while simultaneously taking us back to the pieces of the past worth hanging on to.

    Much love this morning.

  3. First – I love the wreath.

    Second – I am continually amazed at the human body. I can reach into my purse and, just with my fingertips, identify exactly what I’m touching. I’m amazed that a smell can bring on a flash of history. And despite the fact that we continually tell ourselves I’m over it or I’m going to let it go, our hearts/heads/gut holds onto it. Sometimes for now, sometimes forever. Sometimes our feelings about it changes. Humans are an amazing enigma.

    Last – I’m oddly pleased for you (because I can’t explain it – it seems comforting to me) that you’re romanticize your relationship with your mom while at the same time recognizing it for what it was and how it made you. Why not pull out the things that she taught you and keep them as a special part of what you’re doing in the now? Why not enjoy the good memories she left you? There’s no rule that says you have to harp on the bad memories (unless there is such a rule, and if there is, keep it to yourself please [insert smiley face emoticon]). I’m sorry you continue to have such a troublesome year.

    Side note – maybe you and Thing 2 can play hooky. Or hockey. Whatever your preference.

    • hockey.

      i do remember Mom in pleasant notes; my memories are not so imbued with sadness that i can’t recall the trips to niagara falls or the chocolatier near our home. the trips to the “penny candy” store for being good at the grocer or her delight when i played my violin. i view her in many dimensions now because she is not here to show me the only one i can see. all this said, the thing is, she did make me, forge me and hone me. she knew it as well as i did. these are no longer regrettable chinks in my armor, but battle scars of a time hard-won, when i was first determined to live as deliberately honestly as i could, for she did her best to live the other way. i know this isn’t easy, CB, to hear about anyone’s mother. and i am likely creating in my own children a drive to see life beyond its simple dimensions as they are and instead to go farther beyond the envelope, to invent, to dream and to imagine. i still want those things for myself: elasticity and whimsy. i see them: i wear scarves now, i sing out loud and work very hard (ha!) to try to not take life so seriously. (i get the irony,)

      in Mom’s own way, which often backfired until now, i’m hearing her: i’m cooling down. 🙂

      to your first comment: i am pleased and so delighted with this ability to experience unsolicited memories. they might not all be rosy, but they tell us they happened, they are not just in our imagination. memory is amazing.

      T2 went on the field trip and had a good time. he showed me all his photos on his iPod when he returned.

      xo

  4. So much insight in this sentence: “It’s hard to admit that your relationship with the Most Important Person in your life was rife with conflict, pain, fear, complexes and mistrust. I need to remember the reality though: that things were challenged and challengING because it’s where I get my strength now.”

    I know I sometimes forget that even the challenging experiences have a lot of value.

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